Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cloth Diapering 101

I have been asked to explain my system for using cloth diapers. Anyone else is invited to ask questions, share tips, tell experiences, etc., in the comment section. When giving advice, keep in mind that this is written to a young mom expecting her first baby, who never even heard of cloth diapering until very recently. (In this age of disposables, I don't think she is unique.) What seems basic to you may be totally new to her -- and, perhaps, to other readers of this blog.

Edited to add: Here is a great link with a lot more info on cloth diapering, with lots of other links to help you find what you need and how to save money by making some things yourself.

I buy pre-folded cloth diapers at Wal-mart in the US. As far as I know, none of the Wal-marts in this section of Ontario sell cloth diapers. (They do sell diaper pins and plastic pants; go figure.) There are a number of things that are cheaper/more available in Wal-marts in the US, so we tend to shop there whenever we are in the States.

If I had the money, I would order diapers over the internet. Several companies offer different sizes of prefolds, to better fit newborns up to toddlers. And if I had a lot more money, I'd buy woolen "soakers" to use instead of plastic pants. If I had more time, and a good source for quality wool spun "in the grease" (for softness and waterproofing), I'd knit my own. Some people use diapers/diaper covers with velcro closures, but I don't like them. I can never get them fastened tight enough, and the hook side of the velcro gets clogged with lint too fast.

I like to start with 5-6 dozen diapers. I used to keep as many as I needed to go through a whole week without washing diapers. But now I have a smaller diaper pail, so I wash them when the pail is full. When I've had two children in diapers, this could be every other day or so. With just Sam, it's more like every 3-4 days.

The packaging for the diapers usually has diagrams that illustrate how to put the diaper on the baby. Borrow a doll to practice on. (Little girls always used to do this when playing "house," but modern baby dolls come with disposables.) A newborn can wear one diaper, folded over in front to fit. As Baby grows, you will sooner or later need to double the diaper (putting two on at a time). When Baby starts sleeping through the night, you may need to triple the diaper. I usually keep the inner diaper(s) folded in, opening out only the outer diaper so I'm not pinning through so many layers.

When pinning, keep the fingers of your other hand under the diaper, next to the baby's skin. That way, if anyone gets pricked, it'll be you, not the baby.

When putting the plastic pants (or whatever diaper cover you use) on, make sure the diaper is completely tucked in, all the way around, at the waist and at the legs. The tiniest bit of cloth diaper (or even the tag in the back of the plastic pants) will wick wetness out and get Baby's clothes wet.

When changing Baby, I like to use Huggies brand of wipes. However, I rarely want to spend the money for them. Instead, I use washcloths. I like baby washcloths for this, since they're softer, but when I don't have them, I use a cheap package of regular washcloths. I wet the washcloth with warm water and add a squirt of baby bath. I bought one bottle of (expensive) baby bath with a pump-squirt thingy on the top, and refill it with cheaper baby bath in the regular bottles. After using the washcloths, they get thrown in the diaper pail along with the diapers.

With babies that are only (or mostly) breast-fed, I put the messy diapers in the diaper pail without rinsing first. When they are eating more and more solids, their messes are nastier, and need to be rinsed out in the toilet first. I think it's more efficient to do this by hand than to use one of those diaper ducky things. I like to use rubber gloves for this (and clean them by washing my hands with the gloves still on), but my children like to play with rubber gloves (and lose them). So I buy a box of disposable vinyl gloves and throw them away after using.

Unless the plastic pants are messy (from bowel movements) or overly wet and smelly from overnight use, I reuse them for the next diaper. They come cleaner in the laundry if you turn them inside out before putting them in the diaper pail.

There are official diaper pails available. Tom got me something different, though, that I like better. It's a flip-top trash can that you open the lid by stepping on the pedal thingy at the bottom. It has a bucket liner that you lift out when you need to empty it. It's easier to use because when you have the baby in one arm and the wet diaper in the other hand, you can use your foot to open it, and it shuts by itself.

When laundering diapers, I dump them in the washer, add detergent and turn the washer on. Lacking a washer (a memorable event once when I had two in diapers), I dump them into the tub, add water and detergent, and wash by hand. If I can hang them on the line outside, I use cold water. Otherwise I use hot. Hanging them on the line on a bright sunny day bleaches them. Leaving them out in the rain, or overnight in the dew softens them. If you do use a dryer, remember this: plastic pants last longer if you do NOT put them in the dryer. Hang them up instead. Also, bleach weakens the fibers in the diapers.

Diaper rash: I use zinc oxide cream now. When I lived in the US, I could get a little bottle of vitamin E oil that worked wonders. Here, the vitamin E oil is thick, sticky, hard to use, and -- no surprise -- expensive.

That is all I can think of right now. That seems like a lot of information, but once you get going with it, it becomes second nature. And you save tons of money, even if you have to pay for your water. (We have a well, and sun and wind are free.)


Christy said...

Thank you so much! I'm going to try it! I've found the diapers you were talking about at Walmart- the Gerber foldables. I'm going to register for them, as well as the diaper covers (when I find them- no luck yet, they don't sell them with the cloth diapers at our Walmart. I asked the someone and they said they only carry the Gerber foldables because people use them as burp cloths etc.) and a nice trash pail. We have a clothesline, and since the baby will be here in early spring it will be no big deal to hang them up.

Autumn said...

Hi, Cathy. What a great thing you are doing for this young soon-to-be mom. I have found in my area that if the cloth diaper isn't super easy and leak-proof the mom's give up or don't want to try it. Remember although the initial investment may be high the total savings over the baby's diapering life is staggering! You mentioned wanting to try wool if you had more money. I have posted links on my blog ( on how to make wool longies out of recycled sweaters. Also if you are handy with the sewing machine you can make your gerber prefolds absorbent by replacing the polyester padding with flannel, microfiber or really anything other than what's there :P Cut a line at the end where you can pull out the inside. Then replace it with absorbent fabric. You can secure the inner fabric at the top and bottom with a quick stitch. There are many more tips I could add! Let me know if you have any questions.

Autumn Beck

Cathy said...

Christy, I'm glad you found this helpful. I hope you also take time to check out Autumn's diapering blog. Thanks, Autumn, for sharing the link!

Twinklemoose said...

Nyaderm cream for diaper rash. You ask for it over the counter at the pharmacy and it is fairly inexpensive.

Mrs. Walker said...

Even though it is a bit more expensive, I absolutely have to have Dr. Smith's ointment for diaper rashes. I have tried several brands and products, but so far this is the only cream that actually heals a diaper rash nearly overnight! I rarely have had to put on more than two applications to clear up a rash for either of my boys. I know that a serious rash would take longer, but Dr. Smith's is still my best recommendation!! I have found it only at Walmart...go figure!

I haven't been brave enough to try cloth diapers, but with our economy doing so badly, my husband's hours getting cut back, they may be the logical choice with our new baby coming next summer.

Right now, the Lord is providing diapers for us through my shopping with coupons at CVS and Walgreens. I normally have three or more packages stocked up at any given time. I'm nearly out right now and need to scour the ads for a good deal!!

Thanks for sharing all this with us, Cathy. Great resource!!!